Curved Air are an English symphonic-psych band that released four albums on Warner Bros. between 1970 and 1973, followed by two mid-decade albums on RCA Victor.
They formed around the creative core of violinist Darryl Way, guitarist–keyboardist Francis Monkman, and alto vocalist Sonja Kristina. With a fluctuating rhythm section, Curved Air released the 1970–72 albums Air Conditioning, Second Album, and Phantasmagoria. The second spawned the UK No. 4 hit “Back Street Luv.”
Way departed for his own band, Wolf, leaving Sonja as the only original member by 1973’s Air Cut, which features rising keyboard–violin prodigy Eddie Jobson, who departed for Roxy Music and played with numerous acts (UK, Jethro Tull). Way returned for the 1975–76 albums Midnight Wire and Airborne, which feature American drummer Stewart Copeland, who subsequently formed The Police.
Curved Air are one of the earliest rock acts after It’s a Beautiful Day to utilize violin, the featured instrument on Way’s signature composition “Vivaldi,” a tribute to his classical muse.
Members: Sonja Kristina (vocals, acoustic guitar), Darryl Way (violin, keyboards, percussion, vocals, 1969-72, 1974-76, 1984-2009), Francis Monkman (guitar, keyboards, percussion, 1969-72, 1974, 1990), Florian Pilkington-Miksa (drums, percussion, 1969-72, 1974, 1990-present), Rob Martin (bass, 1969-70), Ian Eyre (bass, 1970-71), Mike Wedgwood (bass, acoustic guitar, vocals, 1971-73), Kirby Gregory (guitar, vocals, 1972-73, 2013-present), Eddie Jobson (violin, keyboards, vocals, 1972-73), Jim Russell (drums, percussion, 1972-73), Phil Kohn (bass, 1974-75), Mick Jacques (guitar, 1975-76), Stewart Copeland (drums, 1975-76), Tony Reeves (bass, keyboards, 1975-76), Alex Richman (keyboards, 1976)
Curved Air sprung from a band called Sisyphus, initiated by violinist Darryl Way and keyboardist Francis Monkman. Way had studied violin at the Royal College of Music. Monkman won the Raymond Russell prize for virtuosity on harpsichord at the Royal Academy of Music. He’d recently played in the premier London performance of In C by composer Terry Riley. The two met at a retail outlet for the Orange Music Electronic Company, where they discovered their shared affinity for US West Coast acid rock (Spirit, It’s a Beautiful Day). They formed Sisyphus with bassist Rob Martin and drummer Florian Pilkington-Miksa.
Sisyphus was hired to provide musical accompaniment to a London staging of Who the Murderer Was, the 1970 play by Galt MacDermot. Among the attendees was aspiring rock manager Mark Hanau, who introduced Sisyphus to Sonja Kristina Linwood, a budding folk singer who had just appeared in another of MacDermot’s plays, Hair. The three parties agreed that her flaming alto was the perfect match for the band’s neo-classical psych sound. Upon her entry, Sisyphus changed its name to Curved Air, the name taken from Riley’s 1969 release A Rainbow in Curved Air.
Curved Air rehearsed at Martin’s home for several weeks in the spring of 1970 and toured England to rapturous audiences with fellow up-and-comers Black Sabbath. That summer, Curved Air signed to Warner Brothers and recorded their first album at Island Studios.
Curved Air released their debut album, Air Conditioning, in November 1970. Side one is bookended by the lilting Monkman/Kristina number “It Happened Today” and Way’s violin virtuoso showcase “Vivaldi,” titled after the Italian Baroque composer. In all, Way wrote or co-wrote seven of the ten numbers, including two apiece with Kristina (“Screw,” “Hide and Seek”) and Martin (“Situations,” “Blind Man”). Monkman contributed the side-two cut “Propositions” and co-wrote the closing miniature “Vivaldi (With Cannons),” a reprise of Way’s signature piece.
“It Happened Today” (4:55) opens with a frantic, upward guitar lick over a descending, chromatic piano–bass figure (rooted in D minor). It’s a medium-uptempo number with a jittery rhythmic feel and lyrics that touch on solipsism (“you’re only what you think you might be; I am only what you think I am”) and notions of presentism (“Yesterday, you know it never really happened”). Midway, the song turns instrumental with a slow, flowing sequence of violin leads of major-seventh chordal passages.
“Stretch” (4:05) opens with a closed-cadence pattern of winding violin and abrupt bass notes (in G minor). The verses (in A minor) have a stomp/clap precision with similarities (darting thirds and fourths) to “Spirit In the Sky,” a concurrent Billboard hit by American songwriter Norman Greenbaum.
“Screw” (4:03) starts with crisp violin over a faint, medium–slow setting (in F#). Sonja sings with open, flowing cadences over Way’s slithery violin, which soars midway over Monkman’s flute-tone Mellotron and (later) searing, fuzzy guitar tones.
“Blind Man” (3:32) is a faint mid-paced number (in A) with distant violin and muttered vocals over a rustic, staccato rhythmic pattern.
“Vivaldi” (7:26) showcases the violin talents of Way, who bows frantic riffs over a stormy sequence (in D minor), followed by an unaccompanied passage where he double-tracks with searing and dissonant results. He spirals into distortion and free-form before a final go-round of the stormy main theme.
“Hide and Seek” (6:15) is a medium-slow blues–psych number (in G) with glowing piano over a fuzzy chordal pattern. Sonja enters (at 1:25) with lithe contralto and isolationist lyrics on the frantic, stormy verses (in C minor). Monkman layers increased fuzz and searing leads as the rhythmic storm intensifies.
“Propositions” (3:04) is a fast, frantic psych-rocker with a plunging fuzz riff (rooted in D) over a pounding back beat. Midway, Monkman plays a circular, double-tracked guitar fugue with random dissonance. Kirstina and Way harmonize the laconic lines, which drop cryptic clues like “A paying proposition for your pantomine; I found a nice way to die.”
“Rob One” (3:22) is a slow instrumental with searing, high-pitched violin over simple piano notes.
“Situations” (6:17) has faint verses with a muted, semi-tone guitar figure (in G minor) and restrained, melancholy vocals. The narrator, in a resigned yet pleading tone, makes virginal vows (“Haven’t touched any other man”) as she copes with an arranged marriage (“I love you but it isn’t as I planned… I’ve wished to be beside somebody else”). Sonja swells on the Mellotron-laden chorus (“See what a fool I’ve been, I haven’t lived my dream”). Midway, she finds airy solace in “Soft green sun color still” amid sparkling chimes, pizzicato strings, and frosty Mellotron over a martial drum pattern. This cuts to a fast, stormy sequence with searing guitar and foggy Mellotron. The “soft green” passage returns — interrupted by a final go-round of the verse–chorus sequence — to carry out the piece.
“Vivaldi (With Cannons)” (1:35) is a variation of Way’s theme in which his violin riff is flanked by wheezing sounds, bells, cannon sounds, explosions, and church organ.
Air Conditioning was produced by Mark Edwards (Balloon Busters, Marsupilami, Purple Barrier) and engineered by Colin Caldwell (Alice, C.O.B., Groundhogs, Keef Hartley Band) and Bob Potter (Bell + Arc, Quintessence, Spanky Wilson, Steeleye Span). Way plays electric violin and shares keyboard duties with Monkman, whose arsenal consists of organ, piano, electric harpsichord, Mellotron, and Vcs3 synthesizer, plus guitar.
Hanau conceived a visual gimmick for Curved Air: the picture disc. On the first 10,000 UK copies of Air Conditioning, the vinyl sports imagery of a burlesque mandala (side one) and striped concentric circles (side two). Most of these copies had audio issues due to the undeveloped technology for picture vinyl. For international pressings and subsequent UK copies, the images are replicated on the front and back sides of a conventional white sleeve. Hanau’s prior visual credits consist of 1969/70 titles on the Transatlantic label by Circus, Jody Grind, and Storyteller.
To support the album, Curved Air toured the UK club and college circuit during the 1970 holiday season, sharing select dates with Genesis, Steamhammer, Quiver, and Heads Hands & Feet. After supporting Yes in January 1971 at Croydon’s Fox at Greyhound, they embarked on a national tour with Black Sabbath and Freedom. In April, they played 10 stateside dates opening for Jethro Tull, followed by a homecoming tour with support from the Mick Abrahams Band. Along the way, Martin injured his hand and cleared way for bassist Ian Eyre.
Curved Air issued “It Happened Today” as a single, backed with the non-album (never reissued) “What Happens When You Blow Yourself Up,” a mid-tempo cut in 7/8 with fluid keyboards over a circular bass ostinato. UK and Dutch copies pair both on the a side, backed with “Vivaldi.”
“It Happened Today” appears on Non-Dairy Creamer, a 1971 US Warner comp with cuts by John Martyn, Little Feat, Peter Green, and Zephyr.
After their first US tour, Curved Air broke with Hanau and signed on with Clifford Davis (aka Clifford Adams), the manager of Fleetwood Mac. Hanau went on to manage another female-fronted post-psych act, Saturnalia. With them, he designed an even more elaborate picture disc and package for their 1973 album Magical Love.
Air Conditioning reached No. 8 on the UK Albums Chart.
In June 1971, Curved Air returned with “Back Street Luv,” written by Kristina and Way with input from Eyre (his only writing credit). Monkman wrote the b-side, “Everdance,” a frenetic number with gasping vocals and billowing violin over a jerky, propulsive rhythmic pattern, replete with an oscillating, bubbly synth solo.
“Back Street Luv” — which breaks from a lurching fuzz-bass verse to a galloping chorus, sung with Kristina’s seductive, maternal air — reached No. 4 on the UK Singles Chart. Just as it peaked, Curved Air played the Benefit for Oz concert at London’s Roundhouse with America and the National Head Band.
Curved Air released their Second Album on September 9, 1971, on Warner. Side one contains five Kristina/Way numbers, including the hit plus “Young Mother,” “Jumbo,” “You Know,” and “Puppets.” Monkman wrote all of side two: “Everydance,” “Bright Summer’s Day ’68,” and the 12-minute epic “Piece of Mind.”
“Young Mother” (5:55) fades in with a spiraling, processed organ tone that, one-by-one, summons the band, which coalesce on a two-chord pattern (D minor… B♭…), followed by a galloping set of bars that herald Sonja, who sings fluid lines (“Don’t interfere with my mind, try to be kind”), followed by cynical observations (“It’s down to how much you fake in the end”). On the break, Way solos over Monkman’s bubbling, oscillating VCS3 tones. The track accelerates with soaring keyboard runs over a rhythmic two-chord electric piano pattern.
“Back Street Luv” (3:38) starts with a mid-tempo organ sustain, overlaid with fuzzy, sputtering synth sounds. Sonja takes the verses (in C minor) with intrigue about a mystery girl: the subject of endless questions (in relation to love) on the brisk, hopping chorus.
“Jumbo” (4:07) is a slow, rhythmless number with airy violin over light piano and faint organ (in C#). Sonja sings to her partner from a homebound flight marked by jet lag.
“You Know” (4:11) has a mid-tempo pattern (in C minor) with a contrapuntal keyboard figure — an arching, fuzzy riff over a circular Fender Rhodes line — against a pounding 4/4 tempo. Monkman plays two scaling guitar breaks between the chanted, harmonized verses.
“Puppets” (5:26) has a lush, minimal arrangement with lithe vocals over faint, cloudy Mellotron and sparse piano; underscored by a ticking rhythm with muffled finger percussion.
“Everdance” (3:08) has a brisk, galloping rhythmic pattern (in A minor), overlaid with frenzied violin and gasping vocals. Midway, Monkman counters Way with a bubbling synth passage. The lyrics reflect on two parted friends: one who fled while the other engaged in the devil’s dance.
“Bright Summer’s Day ’68” (2:54) opens with a galloping, repetitive chordal passage, overlaid with harpsichord. Sonja, in lockstep with the chordal melody, sings limericks about grim subjects (“brother broke jail,” “my Daddy shot Mom”) with nonchalance.
“Piece of Mind” (12:52) enters with a lurching piano–bass pattern (in A minor) with low, winding synth; overlaid (momentarily) by violin and fanfare keyboards. Sonja, in an ethereal tone, describes nightmare visuals (“See things come to call as they crawl on the wall”) induced by hallucinogens. After the first chorus (at 2:25), the music spins into a free-fall pattern (in G minor), where Sonja concludes:
Seems we’re on two different wavelengths, misinterpreting, you realize
What this age of insanity, lack of humanity brings
You know I couldn’t even tell you my name
The song proper cuts to a moderate classical sequence of piano and violin (in G minor) that gradually winds to a harpsichord cadenza (in C minor) that triggers a second chorus, where Sonja speed-sings (“I feel I’m beginning to see the existence of… you know I never even found out quite what”) over high rhythmic velocity. Midway, they break to an instrumental section with ensemblic interplay, overlaid with sparkling piano. Later (at 9:25), a compound meter takes hold (5+2) with piping organ over a dense, hyperactive rhythmic pattern (flanked with duck sounds). The final passage (at 10:40) is slow and muted with spiraling synth doodles over a two-note ostinato.
Sessions took place at Island and Morgan studios with Caldwell, who co-produced Second Album with the band. He also worked on 1971 albums by Anne Briggs, Aynsley Dunbar, Black Widow, and Therapy.
Original UK and Italian copies sport a pastel pink gatefold sleeve with a die-cut quarter rainbow on the front. The inner-spread features a b&w topless photo of the group with Sonja (foreground) cropped from the neck-up. The photographer, Peter Howe, also captured imagery for early ’70s albums by Carmen, Family, Laurie Styvers, and Linda Lewis. North American and Australasian copies sport alternate art: a cloudy blue sky with rainbow lines in the upper right.
In the fall of 1971, an ill-stricken Pilkington-Miksa was deputized on tour by session drummer Barry de Souza (Labi Siffre, Lesley Duncan, Rupert Hine, Shawn Phillips), who performed with Curved Air on their second appearance on the German music program Beat-Club (9/25/71).
“Back Street Luv” appears on two 1971 Reprise comps: Let It Rock for Release (Germany) with cuts by CSNY, Faces, Family (“Peace of Mind”), Frank Zappa, Led Zeppelin, Passport, Yes (“Yours Is No Disgrace”); and Cool, Baby, Cool!! with tracks by Axiom, Doobie Brothers, Earth, Wind & Fire, Jackie Lomax, Jethro Tull (“Locomotive Breath”), and Labelle. “Everdance” appears on The Warner/Reprise Display Case Volume 2 with cuts by Alice Cooper, Colosseum, Pentangle, T. Rex, and Van Morrison.
Second Album reached No. 11 on the UK Albums Chart on the week of October 9, 1971.
In November, Curved Air returned to the US for 12 East Coast dates supporting Jethro Tull, followed by shows with Emerson Lake & Palmer (Shreveport, LA) and Ten Years After (Detroit).
On February 4, 1972, Curved Air played a quadruple bill at London’s Lyceum with Audience, East of Eden, and Stackridge. Their third single, the non-album Way/Kristina number “Sarah’s Concern,” appeared that March, backed with Monkman’s “Phantasmagoria,” the title track for their upcoming album, recorded with new bassist Mike Wedgwood, a sideman of blues-rocker Micky James and one-time member of folk-beatsters The Overlanders.
“Sarah’s Concern” is a medium-uptempo harmonized number with a plunging organ riff (in G) set to a locomotive rhythmic pattern. Midway, the track slows through a sequence of sharps and flats as Monkman plays a piercing analog solo, followed by ghostly vocals about “Candlelight, fire and fleet” and “the night of the three.” The song concerns a woman’s final thoughts before she enters a holy sacrificial pact with her lover.
Phantasmagoria appeared on Warner Bros. in April 1972. Side one features a song apiece by Way (“Cheetah”) and Lindwood (“Melinda (More or Less)”), plus two co-writes (“Marie Antoinette,” “Not Quite the Same”), and wraps with “Ultra-Vivaldi,” a wacky reprise of Way’s signature from Air Conditioning. Monkman composed the bulk of side two, including the xylophone hurricane “Over and Above” and “Whose Shoulder Are You Looking Over Anyway.” The album concludes with the Kristina/Monkman co-write “Once a Ghost Always a Ghost.”
“Marie Antoinette” (6:20) is medium-slow number with a murky keyboard pattern (in E minor) and airy vocals that speak directly to the last Queen of France in regards to her standing just before the 1789 revolution. After a pair of verses that end with the words “They rise, Chanting revolution, Vive la Nation,” the song cuts to a faint piano passage that ushers a punctual mid-tempo sequence that charts the uprising; culminating with the lines “Marie Antoinette, They’ve taken the guillotine, They’re coming to take the queen.”
“Melinda (More or Less)” (3:25) is a medium-slow classical–folk number composed of fluid violin and plucked acoustic guitar (in A minor). Sonja, in a gentle voice, sings of a “lovely lady” whose dreams of ‘rainbow glory’ and ‘day-glo comfort’ are tempered by the dullness of her surroundings. (Echoes of this song’s arrangement are heard in the instrumental passage in the 1977 Kansas song “Dust In the Wind”).
“Not Quite the Same” (3:44) starts with fanfare horns on moderate piano. The song has jumpy 3/4 verses with shifting brass notes (based in G and E♭). Sonja — whisked along by the brisk, bumpy cadence — sings of a man who “busied himself, quite amusing himself, by abusing himself” because all the nearby women (who didn’t resemble “dad’s wife”) where either flaky or taken.
“Cheetah” (3:33) is a brisk Way showcase with frenzied violin over sparkling harpsichord and speedy drum fills. After a whirwind sequence, they cut to a mid-tempo shuffle where Darryl bows elongated notes. A recap of the fast passage cuts to…
“Ultra-Vivaldi” (1:22) — a keyboard variation of “Cheetah” (with thematic similarities to “Vivaldi”), overlaid with vibrating synth — played at maximum velocity through a pitch-bending filter that winds things to a flatine.
“Phantasmagoria” (3:15) enters with slithering violin over a stop-start piano motif (in D minor) that triggers the song proper: a medium-uptempo number with bumpy cadences and lilting vocals about a nearby spirit. On the chorus, Sonja rises higher with each negation (“Don’t ring for a taxi/call a policeman [etc]”), then reassures the subject that “It’s probably friendly, just alone like you.”
“Whose Shoulder Are You Looking Over Anyway?” (3:24) is a musique concrète piece with organ drones, echoe effects, and faint, channeled vocal snippets. The title stems from a line in the prior track (“Keep looking over your shoulder to see if it’s there”).
“Over and Above” (8:36) is a brisk 3/4 number with an arching bass ostinato (in A minor) overlaid with jazzy cymbal mist and xylophone arpeggios. Midway, airy vocals trade off with vibraphone runs (qualities that resemble the 1971 self-titled album by Samurai). The lyrics explore the freedom of out-of-body soul flight. After Sonja sings the final line (“Prison bars meaningless when you find your soul can fly”), a lengthy tradeoff ensues (at 4:50) of brass, vibe, and xylo passages over the unrelenting rhythmic sway, which slows to a wailing outro guitar solo.
“Once a Ghost, Always a Ghost” (4:25) is a festive number (in C#) with Latin flavors and outdoor vibes (crowd sounds, percussive sundries). In the harmonized lyrics, one pirate tells another about a secret potion that can turn them invisible and allow them to haunt the seven seas unseen. Their ebullient vocal lines are interlaced with brass and glowing vibe passages.
Caldwell engineered and co-produced the album at Advision and Electronic Music Studios. They employed a brass section on “Not Quite the Same,” “Over and Above,” and “Once a Ghost Always a Ghost.” The last two tracks feature xylophone and vibes by Frank Ricotti, a collaborator of Michael d’Albuquerque who also played on 1972 albums by Byzantium, Michael Gibbs, Neil Ardley, and Norma Winstone. Concurrently, Caldwell produced the Vertigo release Changes, the second album by Catapilla.
Phantasmagoria is housed in a single sleeve with the title (front) and name (back) in two-dimensional slanted cursive (yellow/green) over a white background. Behind the letters, a green-hooded, grass-seated gnomic character smokes from a doobie. The cover was designed by John Gorham, an illustrator for BBC Radio Enterprises.
Curved Air promoted Phantasmagoria with a 23-date UK tour supported by the Gary Moore Band. On March 27, they played the Zentralhalle in Hamm, Germany, with Audience and Renaissance. That summer, they did multiple US dates with Deep Purple, including triple bills with Malo (Seattle) and Elf (Passaic, NJ). On July 22, they opened for the Buddy Miles Express at Ungano’s Ritz Theater in Staten Island.
In August, Curved Air played the Reading Festival 1972, a three-day weekend event with sets by Edgar Broughton Band, Electric Light Orchestra, Focus, Gillian McPherson, If, Jericho, Jonathan Kelly, Man, Matching Mole, Status Quo, Stray, String Driven Thing, Sutherland Brothers, Vinegar Joe, and Wizzard. Curved Air played the first day (Friday the 11th) with Genesis, Jackson Heights, Nazareth, The Pretty Things, and Steamhammer.
In October, Curved Air performed at the Civic Hall in Dunstable with Irish up-and-comers Fruupp.
“Phantasmagoria” appears on Burbank, a 1972 four-sided Warner comp (cover inspired by Chicago II) with tracks by Captain Beyond, Fanny, Foghat, Matthew Ellis, Maxayn, The Meters, Tower of Power, and Van Dyke Parks. Along with John Cale, Curved Air are the only non-American act placed on the side subtitled “Burbank U.S.A.” (side one).
By late 1972, musical differences between Way and Monkman — evidenced from their mutually exclusive writing and side-splitting on the last two albums — came to a head as the latter’s improvisational instincts rubbed against the violinist’s more structured approach. Each went their separate ways, as did Miksa, bringing Curved Air to a seeming halt.
Way formed Wolf, a jazz-rock combo suffixed with his own name. They released three albums on Deram in 1973/74.
Monkman became a sessionist, having played on 1972 albums by Labi Siffre, David Elliott, and Cochise guitarist BJ Cole. Notably, he played on the acid-raga “Rajah Kahn” on Prologue, the first album by the Annie Haslam edition of Renaissance. During 1973, he played on titles by Alan Sorrenti, Harvey Andrews, Lynsey De Paul, and Al Stewart (Past, Present and Future). Mid-decade, he appeared on albums by the Alan Parsons Project (Tales of Mystery and Imagination), John Keating, and the Nigerian acts Ofege and C.S. Crew. After a three-album stint with Phil Manzanera, Monkman issued numerous instrumental albums on the library labels Bruton and KPM. In 1979, he gained newfound fame in the classical-rock fusion supergroup Sky.
Miksa joined the backing band of singer Kiki Dee but didn’t appear on her albums.
Kristina and Wedgwood rehearsed members for a new band, but maintained the Curved Air name for market recognition at Davis’s insistence. The new lineup featured drummer Jim Russell, guitarist Kirby Gregory (b. 1953), and violinist/keyboardist Eddie Jobson (b. 1955). Both teens were new to record yet hailed from notable acts. Kirby played in Armada, an unsigned jazz-rock band with singer Elmer Gantry. Jobson gigged with Fat Grapple, a budding folk act that interacted with Curved Air and Stackridge on the English live circuit.
In January 1973, Curved Air entered Advision Studios with producer Martin Rushent to record their fourth album, the first with their new lineup. At this point, Kristina was the only remaining member from the original band that recorded Air Conditioning.
Curved Air released Air Cut in April 1973 on Warner Bros. (UK, NZ, Canada, Japan, Italy, Germany). Side one opens with the Kirby/Kristina proto-punk “Purple Speed Queen,” followed by two Kristina-penned Jobson compositions: “Elfin Boy” and the 10-minute “Metamorphosis,” a martial epic interspersed with quiet etudes and swelling ensemble passages. Wedgwood wrote the music hall miniature “World” and the Leslied soul-rocker “Two-Three-Two.” The album also contains a lone-write apiece by Kristina (“Easy”) and Kirby (“U.H.F.”), plus the wordless “Armin,” joint-written by the four instrumentalists.
“The Purple Speed Queen” (3:23) is a brisk rocker with a four-chord riff (Gsus4→D–E–F–G) and lyrics about Emily Jane, a fast-living runaway with reckless tendencies. Midway, Jobson’s trebly synth break trades off with Kirby’s scaling leads.
“Elfin Boy” (4:12) is a rhythm-less 3/4 ballad that opens with Sonja’s bare, fluttering upper-range; soon joined with plucked acoustic guitar and faint, vibrating synth tones.
“Metamorphosis” (10:41) opens with a piano etude of block chords, rapidfire runs, and sparkling glissandos. Forty seconds in, a martial pattern takes hold (in A minor), overlaid with a piping organ theme. The cadence tightens for a sequence of verses about “children of the midnight” whose “breath turns to frost.” Each stanza is capped by a plummeting motif. A sequence of roaming chords precede a second piano etude (on the semi-tone of D and C#m). Jobson slows his ivory runs over lush string synths. Sonja sings a faint ballad passage (“Sky we dream/sing…. fragment of a picture”), followed by a swelling organ variation of the semi-tone progression. The martial pattern resumes for a final go-round of the verse and refrain, followed by a faster, synth-laden outro sequence (in C) that fades with boogie piano runs.
“World” (1:37) is a 2/4 music-hall miniature with saloon piano and fiddle.
“Armin” (3:43) fades in with a droning synth tone, which triggers the main piece: a frantic medium-uptempo instrumental (in D minor) with striking violin leads, inter-cut by wailing guitar passages.
“U.H.F.” (5:07) is a medium-uptempo rocker with a plunging chromatic riff (rooted in D) and Leslied chords under Sonja’s aggressive vocals. Midway, a strummed secondary riff (in A) parts for a slow, pastoral passage of Mellotron, choral vocalise, and Leslied leads. The secondary riff carries the song out amid Jobson’s frenzied violin leads.
“Two Three Two” (4:14) is a mid-tempo rocker with a chugging Leslied riff. Wedgwood sings the verses, interspersed with harmonized choruses and Kirby’s thick, sinewy leads. Later, the song speeds up over Jobson’s piano-boogie licks.
“Easy” (6:39) opens with a faint piano etude (Dm→Am), overlaid with trebly synth. The verses, intense and moderate-paced, swell in volume and melodrama with each stanza as Sonja sings of a “little boy with a troubled mind.” Kirby lays smouldering tones over Jobson’s thick Hammond organ. Wedgwood takes a vocal passage, followed by a scaly guitar break. Midway, they break to a 5/8 pattern with sparkly keys over an ascending bass ostinato, overlaid with a tight guitar pattern. After a secondary pause, Eddie’s soaring keyboards cover a stormy rhythmic passage that ushers the final verses.
Air Cut is an early production credit for Rushent, who’d engineered albums by Compost, Gentle Giant (Three Friends, Octopus), Groundhogs (Hogwash), Osibisa, Stone the Crows, and Tonton Macoute. His credits would proliferate during the new wave era (Buzzcocks, Generation X, The Human League, The Stranglers). The engineer on Air Cut, Paul ‘The Rock’ Hardiman, was a technical hand on Brian Eno‘s 1973 solo debut Here Come the Warm Jets.
Air Cut sports a gatefold sleeve with the image of a vibrating blue rotor eye (front) and an illustration of the band in a mystical lakeside setting (back). The illustration depicts Kristina — who summons lightning, fairies, and floating spheres — as a cosmic Earth mother standing over the young men, some playing instruments not heard on the album, including harp (Jobson) and flute (Kirby). Russell sits at the edge of the swirling lake in glam rock attire. The inner-spread has lyrics on color blocks and a photo collage of live pics.
On July 21, 1973, Curved Air played the Summer Rock Festival at the Radstadion in Frankfurt along with Gentle Giant, Sly & the Family Stone, and Tempest.
“Two-Three-Two” appears on the 1973 Dutch Warner comp Burbank Rocks with cuts by several aforementioned labelmates and Todd Rundgren (“I Saw the Light”).
In July 1973, Curved Air demoed material for a proposed fifth album. Davis produced the eight tracks, including four credited to Kristina:
“Lovechild” has a slow opening pattern of slithery violin and angelic vocals (in D minor), soon joined by intense, mid-paced rock backing.
“The Dancer” is an airy, medium-slow number with light piano, muted string sustain and buoyant vocals.
“The Widow” is a 2/4 music-hall number with barroom vibes and lyrics about a lonely working woman’s search for weekend love.
“Seasons” (8:41) is a slow, pensive number with striking violin and Sonja’s elongated vowels over a muted bass precision. The track loosens and rises in volume in the final moments as Jobson interlocks with Kirby’s sizzling tones.
The remaining tracks are instrumentals: Kirby’s reggae-funkster “The Flasher” and Jobson’s piano etudes “Joan” and “Paris by Night” (6:46), which softly intersperses sparkling ivory runs and block chords (in Cmaj7). Warner rejected the material, which ultimately got released in 1990 as Lovechild by archivists Essential, a division of Castle Music Ltd.
The month prior, Jobson partook in the sessions for These Foolish Things, the debut solo album by Bryan Ferry, who invited the 18-year-old to join Roxy Music as Eno’s replacement. By September, sessions commenced on Stranded, the first of three Roxy studio albums with Jobson on board. He later formed the supergroup UK (with John Wetton, Bill Bruford, and Allan Holdsworth) and played on the 1980 Jethro Tull release A, conceived as an Ian Anderson solo album. In 1983, Jobson assembled Zinc for The Green Album.
Meanwhile, Kirby reteamed with Gantry and Armada bassist Steve Emery in Legs, which issued the 1973 Warner single “So Many Faces” (b/w “You Bet You Have”).
Curved Air fell into limbo after breaking ties with Warner Bros. and parting with Davis, who also incurred problems with his main client, Fleetwood Mac. In early 1974, as Mac’s internal issues rendered them unable to tour, Davis asked Kirby, Gantry, and bassist Paul Martinez to deputize three-fifths of the Mystery to Me lineup for a pre-booked US tour, slated to include Mick Fleetwood, who pulled out at the last minute. After their tour as “Fleetwood Mac” collapsed amid audience walkouts, they enlisted Russell and morphed into funk-rockers Stretch.
Wedgwood briefly joined the Kiki Dee Band but, like Miksa, didn’t play on the singer’s recordings. He then surfaced in Caravan for their 1975/76 albums Cunning Stunts and Blind Dog at St. Dunstans.
Kristina worked briefly as a croupier at the London Playboy Club. When she returned to performing, she shed her Earth mother personae for a more aggressive, suggestive presentation, akin to Elkie Brooks, Ruby Starr, and Alice Spring (Slack Alice).
In September 1974, Kristina reunited with Way, Monkman, and Miksa for a three-week tour, intended to pay off value-added taxes incurred by the band. The tour was organized by Way’s manager, Miles Copeland III, founder of British Talent Management Ltd.
Way — who’d disbanded Wolf and formed a new band, Stark Naked and the Car Thieves — brought in bassist Phil Kohn for the tour, which yielded the 1975 Deram release Curved Air Live, comprised of seven numbers from their 1970–72 repertoire.
When the tour ended, Kristina and Way decided to launch a third edition of the band. Way brought in two further Car Thieves: guitarist Mick Jacques and drummer Stewart Copeland, Miles’ younger brother (b. 1952, Alexandria, Virginia) who worked as a roadie on the tour. As Stuart Barfalonius Copeland, he played on the 1973 album At the Apex of High, a private-press release by UoC, Berkeley avant-psychsters Frolk Haven.
Miles signed Curved Air to BTM, which secured them a deal with RCA. Kohn dropped out just prior to their sessions at Ramport Studios, where John G. Perry (Gringo, Caravan) served as their stand-in bassist.
1975: Midnight Wire
Curved Air’s fifth album, Midnight Wire, appeared in late 1975 on BTM Records (UK) and RCA (Europe, Japan, Oceania). Kristina co-wrote the opening track, “Woman On a One Night Stand,” with outside lyricist Norma Tager, who also penned one track by Jacques (“Dance of Love”) and three by Way: “Day Breaks My Heart,” “Orange Street Blues,” and the epic title track. Jacques lone-wrote “Pipe of Dreams” and co-wrote “The Fool” with Norma and Way.
“Midnight Wire” (7:20) opens with a plaintive piano motif (in C), joined by airy after-hours vocals. Eighty seconds in, the band powers on for the swelling, modulating chorus, where Sonja belts “Who’s that callin’ from the Midnight wire?” — an apparent metaphor for a nighttime lover. Midway, Jacques lays searing, bending leads amid the brimming, fizzy synths and Copeland’s measured, cannon-like tom fills.
“Pipe of Dreams” is a medium-slow instrumental (in F) with a shifting plucked guitar figure, overlaid with serene violin sustain against a waving rhythmic pattern.
Curved Air tackle R&B styles on “Orange Street Blues” and “Woman On a One Night Stand,” a come-hither romp with reservations (“You’re playing for keeps, that gives me the creeps”), set to a tune reminiscent of Leiber–Stoller (shades of “Riot in Cell Block Number 9,” a song covered in 1975 by Dr. Feelgood). Sonja takes a different tone on “Day Breaks My Heart,” an acoustic morning-after ballad with an anguished chorus (set to a samba beat-box pattern).
Midnight Wire was co-produced by American brothers Howard and Ron Albert, technicians on earlier stateside rock and soul recordings (Allman Brothers, Bang, Ramatam, Rasputin’s Stash) with a recent string of transatlantic credits (Joe Vitale, Law, Sutherland Brothers, Wishbone Ash), often referenced as Fat Albert Productions.
The engineer on Midnight Wire, William Reid-Dick, was a relative newcomer who also worked on 1975 albums by Esperanto, Roger Daltery, and Supertramp (Crisis? What Crisis?). He soon proliferated with technical work for Bandit, Pavlov’s Dog, Thin Lizzy (Johnny the Fox), and the sci-fi concept album Intergalactic Touring Band, a 1977 all-star project assembled by Passport Records.
“The Fool” features backing vocalist Derek Damain. Select passages feature keyboardist Peter Woods (David Essex, Joan Armatrading, Michael Chapman, Starry Eyed & Laughing).
Midnight Wire sports a singed-wire cover image (front) and tinted live shots (back), including one pic where Kristina appears to get before Way in the kneeling oral position. Visual credits go to designers Bob Searles (Can, Climax Blues Band, The Kinks, Nova) and Liz Gilmore (American Gypsy) and rock photographers Derek Richards (Maxine Nightingale, The Neutrons) and Jill Furmanovsky (Alternative TV, The Cortinas, Squeeze, Unicorn).
After sessions wrapped, Perry devoted himself to Quantum Jump and made the 1976 solo album Sunset Wading. Curved Air hired bassist Tony Reeves, who played on the first two Colosseum albums and recently came off a three-album stint in Greenslade. Meanwhile, Way played acoustic and electric violin on Birds, the second album by Dutch symphonic-rock trio Trace.
Curved Air released their sixth and final album, Airborne, in 1976 on BTM (UK) and RCA (Europe, Australia, Japan). Side one consists of five songs in the three-minute range, including three with lyrics by Kristina: the Reeves-composed “Broken Lady,” the Reeves/Jacques “Touch of Tequila,” and the Jacques/Copeland “Desiree.” Way contributed “Juno” and the songs that bookend side two: the 11-minute “Moonshine” and the swaying ballad “Dazed.” Copeland wrote “Heaven (Never Seemed So Far Away)” with outsider Stuart Lyons and composed “Kids to Blame” with lyrics by Norma, who also penned Jacques’ “Hot & Bothered.”
“Desiree” is a mid-tempo number with a descending pattern (in D) and searing leads. The subject is a jilted female on a transatlantic, cross-country pursuit of a lover she met in Italy.
“Broken Lady” is rhythmless piano–violin ballad with melancholy lyrics about a lonely female who reminisces over the things she once had.
“Juno” is a brisk number with fluttering violin and rapidfire strum. The subject is a charismatic entertainer (singer, magician) who dies before he can reveal the secret to his magic. On the explosive chorus, Sonja cries out to his spirit: “Juno, What’s your secret? Are you human?” Midway, sparkling vibraphones trade off with Way’s frenzied leads.
“Moonshine” (11:39) fades in with aerial synth-string sustain, soon joined by a clickety high-hat that triggers a five-note guitar figure (in F), that subsides for the rhythmless verses, where Sonja sings in a heavenly tone about out-of-body soul flight. The rock section commences (at 3:14) with a driving mid-tempo guitar figure that modulates (from C) against a crisp bass ostinato. After thirty-five seconds, Copeland sucks things into a rhythmic vortex that funnels the whirlwind chorus, where Sonja promises “There will be good times, Like the time before, When the earth was new, And all was me and you.”
“Heaven (Never Seemed So Far Away)” is a medium-uptempo number with a clean, silvery guitar riff (rooted in D) and a raunchy chorus. The lyrics concern outgrown surroundings and loss of place in changing times.
“Dazed” is a slow, airy ballad of major sevenths (in E and A) with lyrical metaphors about the emotional misgivings of showbiz. The subtle arrangement — a blend of keyboard, violin and chordal sustain — highlights Sonja, who self-harmonizes on the rising chorus.
Sessions took place that spring at Trident Studios, London, with producer Dennis MacKay, who also produced 1975/76 albums by Brand X (Unorthodox Behaviour), Gong (Gazeuse!), The Spiders from Mars, and engineered titles by Jeff Beck (Wired), Mahavishnu Orchestra (Visions of the Emerald Beyond), Lenny White (Venusian Summer), Narada Michael Walden (Garden of Love Light), and Return to Forever (Romantic Warrior). He also co-produced Go, the collaborative effort of Stomu Yamashta, Michael Shrieve, and Steve Winwood (with Al Di Meola and Klaus Schulze).
Airborne was engineered by Trident’s Nick Bradford, a tech hand on contemporary works by Headstone, Charlie (No Second Chance), Wilding / Bonus (Pleasure Signals), and the first two post-Gabriel albums by Genesis: A Trick of the Tail and Wind and Wuthering.
Ricotti reappears on vibraphone (“Juno”) as well as congas. Additional guests include ex-Junco Partners organist Bob Sargeant (“Desiree,” “Kids to Blame”) and two prolific jazzmen: saxophonist Alan Skidmore and trumpeter Henry Lowther (“Hot & Bothered”). “Broken Lady” features accordionist Jack Emblow (Claire Hamill, Hudson-Ford) and pianist Robin Lumley (Brand X, Gary Boyle).
Airborne sports a single sleeve with the band superimposed against a cloudy sky. Kristina wears a gown designed by Sally Tyszkova. On the back, she’s held up by the four men.
BTM issued “Desiree” as a single (b/w “Kids to Blame”). “Broken Lady” backed a non-album a-side, their cover of the Big Joe Williams blues standard “Baby Please Don’t Go,” a song made famous in the ’60s by Them.
Curved Air gigged the English club and college circuit until December 1976. In the final months, keyboardist Alex Richman (ex-Butts Band) stepped in for the departed Way.
After Curved Air
Stewart Copeland caught wind of the nascent punk scene, which inspired him to form The Police in early 1977. He recruited Italian guitarist Henry Padovani and Tyneside bassist Gordon Sumner (aka Sting), formerly of the unsigned jazz-rock act Last Exit. They issued the single “Fall Out” (b/w “Nothing Achieving”) on Miles Copeland’s Illegal Records label. After Padovani cleared for veteran guitarist Andy Summers (Zoot Money, Dantalian’s Chariot, The Animals), they worked with Gong bassist Mike Howlett and German avant-garde composer Eberhard Schoener.
In 1978, The Police signed to A&M and rocketed to fame with their debut album, Outlandos d’Amour. They were one of the world’s biggest bands for the next five years, peaking with the 1981–83 albums Ghost in the Machine and Synchronicity and the hits “Spirits In the Material World,” “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic,” “Every Breath You Take,” and “Wrapped Around Your Finger.”
Early in their career, Copeland moonlighted in Public Zone, an alter-ego of Metro that issued the 1977 single “Naive” (b/w “Innocence”). Under the pseudonym Klark Kent, he issued two green vinyl singles in 1978 on his own Kryptone Records, including the UK No. 48 hit “Don’t Care.” Two further Kent singles appeared on A&M in 1980.
Sonja Kristina debuted as a solo artist with a 1980 self-titled album on small-press Chopper Records. The album features uptempo new wave backing by her band Escape, a popular act on the late ’70s UK club circuit. She issued “St. Tropez” as a single, backed with a cover of the Spirit classic “Mr. Skin,” written by Jay Ferguson.
In 1984, Kristina reteamed with Way for the single “Renegade” (b/w “We’re Only Human”), released as Curved Air ’84. The following year, she issued the single “O Fortuna” (b/w “Walk On By”) on Crunchy Songs. In 1991, she resurfaced with the aptly titled Songs From the Acid Folk, backed by a combo of younger musicians. Kristina was married to Stewart Copeland from 1982 to 1991.
Darryl Way released his first solo album, Concerto for Electric Violin, in 1978 on Island Records. That year, he guested on albums by Jethro Tull (Heavy Horses), Gong, and Wayne County & The Electric Chairs. In 1979, he was part of the 11-strong team that backed Marianne Faithful on her comeback album Broken English. He reunited with Monkman on the latter’s 1981 solo album Dweller On the Threshold, which also features Bryan Ferry, guitarist Andrew Latimer (Camel), and drummer Michael Giles (King Crimson, McDonald and Giles).
In 1982, Way issued the dance instrumental single “Little Plum” (b/w “Sweet Dream”) on Barclay, produced by Martin Gordon (Sparks, Jet). He next released an album of classical music, The Human Condition, in 1987 on Virgin-subsidiary Venture. In 1989, he played on two tracks (“That Voice Again,” “Fields of My Love”) on Radio Silence, the Western debut of Russian rocker Boris Grebenshikov, produced by David A. Stewart of the Eurythmics.
The original mainstays of Curved Air regrouped for a 1990 one-off reunion and again in 2008 for an ongoing series of shows.
- Air Conditioning (1970)
- Second Album (1971)
- Phantasmagoria (1972)
- Air Cut (1973)
- Midnight Wire (1975)
- Airborne (1976)
- Discogs: Curved Air
- English C Albums Directory (page 6)
- Concert Wiki: Curved Air
- 45cat: Curved Air
- tvdb: Beat-Club (all seasons)
- setlist.fm: Reading Festival 1972
- Curved Air (official): Tour/Gig Archive
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